Friday, June 06, 2008





Gas prices, public transit & John Zogby's new book on America's future: My 2008 Book Expo Report, Part 2

(Photos are of John Zogby giving his talk, baby Mena with an "I voted" sticker on her hat and me standing in line with my ticket to receive a copy of the the new Salman Rushdie book, autographed by Mr. Rushdie himself)

Today's headlines announced that more and more people are taking mass transit these days because gas prices are so high that it's actually cheaper now to take the bus. And when I used public transit to get to the 2008 Book Expo in Los Angeles recently, I discovered that this was absolutely true. On the # 40 bus from Inglewood to downtown L.A., we were all packed in like sardines.

Ah, the Book Expo! 3,000 book publishers, 2,000 booksellers, 4,000 librarians, 1,000 authors and me, all filling up every nook and cranny of Los Angeles' gigantic convention center on the corner of Pico and Figuroa. For all of us who love and cherish the written word, the 2008 Book Expo is like dying and going to Heaven! But attending the Expo can also be quite expensive because hotel prices, like gas prices, aren't cheap in L.A. either. This year, however, I was lucky enough to be able to stay with some friends in Inglewood, about ten miles away from the main event. But then I needed to factor in the cost of transportation. The cost of taking daily cab-rides all the way across Los Angeles was far too expensive and renting a car was out of the question as well -- gas prices were too high plus there was nowhere to park. "Take the bus, Jane," said my friend. So I did.

In the four days that I attended the Book Expo, I talked with a lot of people on the # 40 bus and learned a whole lot of stuff. For instance NONE of the people I talked with were happy about the rise in fuel prices. And no one I talked to was happy about George Bush, the Iraq war, the cost of living, police services and a whole bunch of other things either.

One man on the bus talked about the job situation. "It's hard finding a job in L.A.," he said. "For every job that comes available here there are dozens of immigrants applying for it who are willing to work for half the wages that I would work for." And they probably work harder and do a better job too.

One woman on the bus, a grandmother, was be-moaning the fate of Los Angeles' downgraded schools. "Our mayor just fired 800 employees and used that money to employ more police. We don't need more police. We need better schools!" She worked at the county morgue. I was all jealous. Not only was she in an ideal position there to pray for the souls of the dead but she probably was there when they brought in the bodies of Nichole Simpson, River Phoenix, Biggie Smalls, Brad Renfro and Lord knows who all else.

When I finally arrived at the Book Expo, I looked through the list of the day's speakers and decided to go listen to pollster John Zogby talk about his new book entitled, "The Way We'll Be". Well. If Zogby is looking for a good place to conduct his polls in the future, I highly recommend the # 40 bus.

Based on information he obtained using various polling techniques, Zogby stated that, "America's younger generation is not interested in big 'issues' these days -- such as maintaining an empire, gays, illegal immigrants, abortion, etc. They want to judge each situation case by case," and not just lump people together under large 'issue' umbrellas.

"And this up-coming generation may not be the smartest in terms of geography," Zogby continued, "in the sense that they may not be able to find Darfur on the map. But they know what that issue is about. They are tuned into global events, global music, global fashions and the internet. They have passports. They travel. They are the first truly global generation. And they are secular spiritualists. They think there is more to life than just the accumulation of goods."

With regard to job trends, Zogby stated that, "21% of Americans now work at a job that pays less than their previous job. And they seem to be going through the same stages [regarding employment] that Elizabeth K├╝bler Ross said that people go through before death -- anger, denial, acquiescence and then seizing control of their own destiny. Americans today also know that they are going to live longer, that a larger portion of their life will occur after they retire and that they want to use the last third of their life to do what they always wanted to do, to spend that time more fruitfully."

Another trend that Zogby noted was that Americans increasingly have a need for authenticity. "I see the decline of 'spin' and the end of the negative campaign. Hillary Clinton's numbers went down when she went negative. Americans are fed up with hearing about Ken Lay, Barry Bonds and [the White House/Pentagon spin on] Pat Tillman, Jessica Lynch and WMDs."

Zogby also noted that there has been a 30-fold change in energy consciousness between the 1970s and now. That's huge. "A new set of values is being internalized. People recycle, have stopped smoking, etc. And American businesses need to take note that the best way to reach consumers in the future is to appeal to the best in us. Respect the public. Because Americans are now moving into a better future on their own." And Green is also good business.

Here's a quote from Zogby's new book (I have three copies!) "Despite all the dire predictions that we will fall into hopeless self-indulgence, despite even the raw greed that seems to grow like mold inside so many CEO suites and corporate boardrooms these days, the United States is inhabited by a sober, caring, honest, ethical people."

Here's another quote. "People want better lives, not more things to fill their hours with. Surprisingly, in ratcheting the dream downward, Americans are finding contentment in a land of less plenty."

Zogby also talked about how various roles change rapidly in America and we must be prepared to acknowledge these changes. "The road to hell is paved with stereotypes," he said. "For instance, Christian conservatives are being stereotyped today based on what they used to be like in the past. Young Christian Conservatives today want to stop talking about the three Gs -- God, guns and gonads. We need to see where Americans are now, not where they used to be."

Meanwhile, back on my # 40 bus, I too was not trying to stereotype bus riders but here are a few stereotypes I came up with anyway. In Los Angeles, most bus riders are polite and friendly. Most bus drivers are helpful. Most passengers are sane and normal but some bus riders are truly weird. And most bus riders are Latinos, students on their way to school, young mothers, retirees and blue-collar workers -- as of now. But as gas prices continue to skyrocket, we probably won't need a Zogby poll to tell us that in a few years all that is definitely going to change.

PS: Once the # 40 bus dropped me off near the Book Expo and I went inside the two main exhibit halls, I noticed that there were a lot of publishers' booths which featured events where various authors would give you autographed copies of their new books. And gathered around each event were long lines of booksellers, librarians, book-lovers and fans, waiting to have this or that author autograph individual books. "To Jane -- from Neil Gaiman." But the one that seemed to have the longest line -- over 350 people, even more than were in James Patterson's or Salman Rushdie's lines -- was the line of people waiting to get their hands on a copy of Vincent Buglioli's new book. It's title? "The Prosecution of George W. Bush For Murder".

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If you want one of my copies of Zogby's book, they are for sale to the first two people who pony up $200 toward my next trip to Iraq. E-mail me at jpstillwater@yahoo.com and put in your bid.